Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Pan Player+. This entry in the "Aunt Sophie" series covers pan (or panguingue), which is a multi-player form of rummy, often played for money.
Aunt Sophie quits toking off her stack
“Dollink,” sighed my Aunt Sophie, sinking into the booth seat opposite me, “I’m winning and I’m losing at the same time in the pan game. How can that be?”
“My dear,” I laughed, signaling the waitress, “whatever do you mean?”
“I mean,” she explained, “I win lots of hands. No big ones, mind you, but more than I lose. I don’t pay out more than I win on the ones I lose. So I should be ahead of the game, and yet I’m not. How is that possible?”
The waitress arrived, and I pointed at my coffee cup, and indicated bringing a cup for Sophie.
“And get me a diet fruit cup,” she interjected, “and bring the boy one of your famous Cherries Jubilees.” We were in the coffee shop of a prominent Strip hotel that offered pan in its cardroom.
“I think I know what’s happening,” I offered.
“What’s happening?” Sophie demanded. “You mean they’re doing something to me?”
“No,” I responded, “that was just a coincidental turn of a phrase. I could say I think I know what’s going on, but don’t misinterpret that, either. No one’s doing anything to you. What’s happening is something that happens to a lot of players. Before I explain that, let me tell you something that a friend of mine used to say in the poker games. `Maybe if we all play extra careful and don’t get greedy we can all win just a little bit.’ Sounds sensible, for maybe a fraction of a second, but the same sort of reasoning that makes that not work is where your money is going. One reason all the players can’t make money is a certain amount of money keeps leaving the table. Where he plays, most of it is leaving in the form of time, that is, regular charges by the house for the use of the facilities. So, even if somehow everyone could play well enough for everyone to make just a little, that would not be enough to overcome the house take. Of course, since poker is what mathematicians call a zero-sum game, everyone couldn’t win `just a little,’ even if they all played perfectly. Either everyone would break even, or some players would win and some would lose to balance that.”
The waitress arrived with the coffees and Aunt Sophie’s fruit cup. The maitre d’ rolled up a portable stove with two burners. On one he began his magic act. First he heated a teflon pan. Then he added sauce to the pan and stirred in spices. He added bing cherries, and brought it to a boil. When the mixture was simmering, he poured in brandy, which soon vaporized. He tipped the pan slightly, causing the gaseous liqueur to burst into bluish flame. He poured the blazing sauce over a brandy snifter of vanilla ice cream, set the still smoking delicacy before me, and wheeled the stove away. Diners at nearby tables clapped politely in appreciation, and then returned to their meals.
“Your attention, please,” announced a voice over the P.A. system. “The lavender keno game is now paying out a progressive jackpot of $575,000 for nine numbers on a $3 nine-spot ticket.”
“What does that have to do with my losing while winning?” queried Aunt Sophie. “I imagine you’re referring to the tops, but they take only one chip per hand, and I’m sure I was winning more than that.”
“Max Bedpan here. Down-down-down for one, and out for all of ’em. Pay at this station. Credit cards preferred. Operators are standing by, so call now.”
“Who said that?” I asked.
“Who said what?” Aunt Sophie responded. “I didn’t hear nothing.”
“Must be imaging things,” I muttered. “It’s not just tops that’s the problem. Most pan players who think they’re winning aren’t doing quite as well as they might believe. You were, as you said, not doing phenomenally well, but you were winning enough to stay slightly ahead of the game. I know; I was watching you through the one-way glass.”
Aunt Sophie turned to gaze out across the pan and poker area. “Oh,” she remarked, “from over there I thought that was a mirror.”
“Oh yes,” I said, “most players are so used to mirrors all over a casino that they don’t pay them any mind. The ones in the ceilings are `the eye in the sky,’ a vantage point for casino security and observers. The mirrored bubbles that hang down over all table games conceal tv cameras. So that gamblers don’t suspect a security person behind every mirrored surface, there are real mirrors everywhere, too. The inner walls of craps tables are often mirrors. The bathroom walls are usually floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Did you notice the ceiling in your room? It’s a mirror, too. And the one along that wall there affords diners a panoramic view of the casino action. It’s all part of the psychological atmosphere, to keep your mind on gambling all the time. It’s no accident that the bathrooms are in the most remote corner of the casino, that you have to push your way down crowded slot machine aisles to get there, nor is it an accident that the sign-in lobby is also nowhere near the main entrance, that, in fact, you can’t get there without traversing the casino floor. And it’s also deliberate that the wall of this restaurant is actually a window onto the action. Anyway, I had a good view of you playing, and I could see why you were putting out more than your share of hands and still not winning.”
“Nu, tsatskeleh,” she probed, “enlighten please your dear old aunt.”
“It’s simple,” I answered. “You toke the dealer every hand you win.”
“But you’re supposed to toke in Las Vegas,” she protested. “Everyone expects it.”
“Oh, I know everyone expects it,” I returned. “And you can toke when you win, but don’t do it every hand. Make sure you really are a winner before you give away all your money. I saw you toking even when you just won the tops. One off the top for the house, one for the dealer, one was your own ante, and suddenly you didn’t make very much. And, as I say, I was watching. Most of the hands you won you either took down the tops, or went out for two or three. You were vastly overtipping.”
“So what am I supposed to do?” she questioned. “You said I could toke.”
“Of course you can,” I went on, “just don’t do it every hand, or you won’t be a winner unless you have a terrific rush. And even then you won’t win as much as you ought to. I’m afraid that what I have to say isn’t going to make me popular with the dealers, but I believe in toking just once, and that’s at the end of a dealer’s `down.’ Usually dealers work half an hour or forty minutes down, and then they take a break and go to another table. Sometimes it’s as short as twenty minutes. In any case, though, don’t toke the dealer until he or she finishes dealing. Then, if you won on his or her `down,’ give a toke. Make it more than you would for winning just one hand, that is, more than a chip or two, but make it commensurate with your win. If you won only $10, then one chip is enough. If you won $100, make it somewhere between $5 and $10. If you lost, you don’t have to give the dealer anything, and the dealer will understand. The dealer knows who wins and loses. If you lose, you can still give the dealer one chip, and he or she will think you’re a terrific sport. The way you were doing it, you might win three or four moderate hands, and toke $15 in a dollar game, and five small hands, and maybe that’s another $5. You might also during the same time period lose five costly hands, and end up losing more than you won on the others. That would mean you were a net loser for that dealer’s `down,’ and yet you still toked off $20. That’s a whole stack in a dollar game. Wait till the dealer leaves, and then make your decision to toke based on whether or not you won — and how much. You’d be surprised; the dealers will respect you for that. It shows you’re aware of how you’re doing, and since the muckers think most of the players are idiots, you’ll get points in their books for that knowledge. So, if you have a winning session, the dealer profits too. If you have a losing session, the dealer loses out, but knows why, and you don’t end up losing as much. Toke sensibly, and you both make more money and gain respect.”